India, a strong contender

Abhinav Bindra...will he repeat his Beijing feat?-SANDEEP SAXENA ?

Indian shooters have won two medals from five finals since the Sydney Games. Will they better that record in London? By Kamesh Srinivasan.

Shooting has provided the best Olympic medals for India in recent times. After the last gold in hockey in the Moscow Games in 1980, India has won six medals, and two of them have come from shooting.

While Leander Paes in tennis, Karnam Malleswari in women’s weightlifting, Sushil Kumar in wrestling and Vijender Singh in boxing managed to get the bronze medals, it was shooting that provided the breakthrough with a silver in Athens in 2004 and the first individual gold in the Beijing Games 2008.

There are a clutch of world beaters in other disciplines, like Deepika Kumari in archery, Saina Nehwal in badminton, Mary Kom in boxing, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in tennis, and of course, world champion Sushil Kumar in wrestling. But it is in shooting that India has the maximum number of top stars.

World and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang, Ronjan Sodhi and world champion Manavjit Singh Sidhu are in the strong 11-member shooting squad.

In the run-up to his fourth Olympics, Bindra has been in top form and crowned himself the Asian champion early this year, 0.3 point ahead of the former Olympic champion and Asian Games gold medallist Zhu Qinan of China.

The general belief now is that it will be the turn of Gagan Narang to strike it rich this time. He can will himself to a high score, including a perfect 600, as he has showed a couple of times in the World Cup Finals in 2008 and the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Gagan Narang... a strong contender for gold in air rifle.-NAGARA GOPAL

Though he competes in three events, Narang’s best chance will be in air rifle. Two Indians winning Olympic medals in the same event may be too much of a dream, but do not rule out Bindra and Narang figuring in the finals.

Sanjeev Rajput, who qualified in style with a World Cup gold in the rifle 3-position event, will be fired up to assert his identity in the elite company of Bindra and Narang.

Shotgun marksmen Ronjan Sodhi and Manavjit Singh Sandhu provide a healthy picture in double trap and trap respectively.

Ronjan is competing in his maiden Olympics, after having missed Beijing despite two World records against his name in 2008. He has been consistently brilliant thereafter with high scores and big medals. He overcame a four-point deficit to beat the Chinese in their backyard by four points in the Asian Games in Guangzhou. He has also won the World Cup Finals gold the last two times.

“I am 32, and have been in this field for a long time. I have to handle this,’’ said Ronjan about the need to handle the Olympic pressure in possibly trying weather conditions.

As Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore beautifully put it, Ronjan has observed and absorbed the best qualities from the best around him.

“He is smart, intelligent and knows where to apply his mind. When the ladder is there, climb on it. Don’t make your own,” said Rathore, as he applauded the phenomenal growth of Ronjan, and his ability to win the big competitions.

World champion Manavjit Sandhu will try to get it right on his third attempt and make the final in trap to give himself a chance of winning a medal. He showed his calibre by beating a strong field by five points in tough conditions in the Asian Championship in Doha earlier this year.

Ronjan Sodhi...India's yet another best bet.-M. MOORTHY

The grit of that sort, and his technical excellence will be an asset on the big stage.

The pistol shooters are novices in comparison, though it will be at your own peril if you discount the chances of someone like Vijay Kumar in rapid fire pistol. With the unique format of treating all six finalists on par, and neutralising their qualification scores, rapid fire pistol can bring a surprise or two.

Air pistol shooters Annu Raj Singh and Heena Sidhu apart from sport pistol specialist Rahi Sarnobat have shot big scores in winning World Cup medals, but it will be interesting to see how they tackle the pressures at the Olympic arena.

Indian shooters have won two medals from five finals since the Sydney Games. Will they better that record in London?